Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Believe Care Invest Blockbuster Week: Raiders of the Lost Ark

In “South America, 1936” Indiana Jones leads an expedition to find a golden icon in a lost temple. He gets it but triggers the cave’s defenses. He gets away, but a rival relic hunter named Belloq takes the idol from him. Indy runs away, finds his pilot, and takes off. Back at his university, his boss and friend Marcus Brody tells him the government has sent some men to talk with him.

Why Indy might be hard to identify with: The racial politics of the situation are a little uncomfortable. He’s in the business of stealing cultural treasures from their home countries, and killing the natives if they get in his way.

  • Specific time and place: South America, 1936
  • Stuff: Leather jacket, cowboy hat, whip, map in two pieces.
  • He has a friend, Marcus Brody, who doesn’t mind that he didn’t bring the idol back.
  • Has to watch his back, literally and figuratively. One of his own men tries to kill him. And later he has tarantulas on his back.
  • Booby traps trying to kill him. Sees the rotting corpse of his competitor Forestal.
  • Fails in a way that speaks to his flaw: Replaces the idol with a bag of sand that weighs the same, but the temple knows the difference and triggers lots of defenses. He doesn’t realize that the difference is God, which he doesn’t believe in.
  • Rival relic hunter Belloq and an army of Indians take the idol away from him: “Dr Jones, again we see that there is nothing you can possess that I cannot take away.”
  • Has to ride in a plane with a snake “I hate snakes! I hate ‘em!” “C’mon, show a little backbone, would you?”
  • Has to make sure he’s spelling the word Neolithic correctly on his chalkboard.
  • Uncomfortably hit on: Girl has written “Love You” on her eyelids.
  • Before we can see his face we can see that he’s leading this expedition. One of his men screams and runs away when he sees a stone head, but Indy’s unfazed. He also isn’t scared when he finds a poison dart stuck in a tree.
  • Man tries to shoot him in the back, but he cooly whips the gun out of the man’s hand.
  • “Nobody’s come out of there alive! Please!” He enters anyway.
  • Reaches back to get his whip when the door is closing.
  • Swings on a vine like Tarzan.
Strength / Flaw: Confident, manly and capable / Lacks humble faith in God

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Believe Care Invest Blockbuster Week: Toy Story

Co-written by Joss Whedon and John Lasseter, America’s two most beloved men!

Young boy Andy plays with his toys, having cowboy Woody arrest Mr. Potato Head. Then he leaves his toys alone in his room and they come to life. The toys realize Andy is having a birthday party and worry they’ll be replaced. Sure enough, Andy gets a Buzz Lightyear and puts it in Woody’s place on his bed.

Why Woody might be hard to identify with: Not much reason yet. He’ll be a jerk to Buzz later.

  • His world has mundane details: “Tuesday’s night’s plastic corrosion awareness meeting was, I think, a big success.”
  • We see how each toy has a personality based on its use.
  • The toys are minutely detailed. The army men have little plastic seams on their heads.
  • Claims he’s not worried that he’ll be replaced, but we can tell that he is as he tries and fails to reassure everyone. One of them gives voice to his worries, “Yes, sir, we’re next summer’s garage sale fodder for sure.”
  • Andy gives his place on the bed to Buzz. Andy pushes Woody aside and Woody falls off the bed, unnoticed.
  • His love interest is impressed with Buzz: “He’s got more gadgets on him than a Swiss Army knife.”
  • He’s a good manager of everybody. “Woody has never steered us wrong before.” Has his own team of commandos following his orders to spy on the birthday party.
  • Desirable: Little Bo Peep seemingly wants to have sex with him. “What do you say I get someone else to watch the sheep tonight?”
Strength / Flaw: Leader / Selfish about keeping power.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Believe Care Invest Blockbuster Week: Jaws

A girl slips off to the beach to go skinny-dipping with a boy, then gets eaten by a giant shark. We then meet the beach town’s sheriff Brody, waking up cranky. The girls body is found and Brody decides to close the beaches, but the mayor orders them re-opened.

Why Brody might be hard to identify with: He’s a little dour, a little cranky.

  • Distinct way of talking: New York: His wife asks, “Can you see the kids?” “They must be in the back yard.” “In Amity, you say ‘yahd.’” They’re in the yahd, not too fah from the cah. How’s that?” “Like you’re from New York.”
  • Unique backstory: New York cop becomes New England island sheriff.
  • Feels like he doesn’t belong: The sun’s too bright in this beach town. His first line, asking his wife: “How come the sun didn’t use to shine in here?” “We bought the house in the fall, this is summer.”
  • His son was injured on a swing he hasn’t gotten around to fixing.
  • Trying to deal with a death but he’s forced to deal with podunk problems: “We got a bunch of calls about that karate school. It seems the nine year olds from the school have been karate-ing the picket fences.”
  • Clumsy: He knocks over all the paint brushes.
  • Medical examiner changes his story on him, leaving him twisting in the wind.
  • Mayor has no respect for his decision to close the beaches. Told he doesn’t have the authority.
  • Soon, he’ll get slapped by a woman whose son died because he didn’t close the beaches.
  • He’s got a big police truck.
  • He takes charge with the kid. “You mean she ran out on you.” One of the cops breaks down, almost in tears, but Brody mans up to face the corpse.
  • He bravely tries to close the beaches immediately. No one has ever made “beach closed” signs before.
  • Strength / Flaw: Dedicated to his job / Cranky (And afraid of the water, as we’ll find out later)

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Believe Care Invest Blockbuster Week: Back to the Future

Marty visits Doc Brown’s house, but he and his dog are missing. Marty speaks on the phone with Doc who says all the clocks are set ahead, so Marty realizes he’s late for school. He goes to school and meets his girlfriend who tries to help him avoid the principal, but they get caught. The principal tells him he’s a loser like his father. That afternoon, Marty tries out for the battle of the bands, but he’s told that he’s too loud. His girlfriend tries to reassure him. Marty comes home and finds out that his dad’s asshole boss has borrowed the family car and wrecked it, so now Marty can’t take his girlfriend on a trip.

Why Marty might be hard to identify with: Not much reason. He scopes out other girls while with girlfriend is talking to him.

  • We see an elaborate ritual with Doc’s automated breakfast machinery.
  • We hear a news report establishing this world.
  • Marty has dreams: He sees a pick-up truck he’d like to buy and says, “Wouldn’t it be great?  Take that truck up to the lake?”
  • Odd details: Dad eats bowl of peanut brittle as breakfast cereal at night.
  • The detail that the time machine in a DeLorean is so weird.
  • Friendship with a mad scientist is a unique relationship.
  • Strums a guitar, blows himself backward, knocks over a shelf on his head.
  • Running late.
  • Insulted by principal: “You’re too much like your father, no McFly ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley.”
  • Cut off in audition. “I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud.”
  • Worried what he’s becoming: “Jesus, I’m starting to sound like my old man.”
  • Biff has wrecked the car he was going to take. “I can’t believe you loaned me your car without telling me it had a blind spot!”
  • We first meet him, not seeing his face, as he cranks up every dial to practice his rock guitar. At the battle of the bands, we can see he’s good even though the judges can’t.
  • He lets a truck pull him along on his skateboard, which is pretty badass. Then he does it again with a police car!
  • He’s got a great girlfriend who’s super into him. She writes “I love you” on the clocktower flyer.
Strength / Flaw: Talented / Disrespected (which isn’t really a flaw. They had to invent a flaw in the next two movies, where he overreacts to being called “chicken”) I guess you could say his flaw in this movie is low self-esteem, in that he’s very worried people are right when they say he’s a loser like his father.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Believe Care Invest Blockbuster Week: Pirates of the Caribbean

Well, guys, I feel we still haven’t found the perfect witty line from the first ten minutes uttered by the hero, so if you could keep those suggestions coming in, I’d appreciate it! In the meantime:

Young Elizabeth Swann sails from England to the Caribbean with her father. They come across a burning shipwreck and rescue a boy, Will Turner. Cut to ten years later. Will is now a swordmaker delivering a sword to Elizabeth’s father. Her father wants to gift both the sword and Elizabeth to the local Commodore. Meanwhile pirate Jack Sparrow arrives in town in a sinking ship. He tries to steal a new ship, but has to save Elizabeth, who has fainted and fallen in the water. Jack is caught as a result, but gets away. He goes to Will’s shop to steal a sword, and they end up having a sword fight.

Elizabeth Swann

Why Elizabeth might be hard to identify with: Looks pretty gorgeous in her sleep. And because it’s not clear who the hero is.

  • Distinctive piece of jewelry.
  • Beliefs: “I would like to meet a pirate.”
  • Secret: Only she knows Will was a pirate.
  • Forced to wear a corset. “I’m told it’s the latest fashion in London.” “Well women in London must have learned not to breathe.”
  • Unrequited love for Will. Father expects her to marry for social advancement instead of for love.
  • Only she spots Will floating in the sea, and only she spots the pirate ship
  • She can handle herself around pirates just because she’s booksmart about them. She knows to say “parler”
  • She’s snarky to her dad.
Strength Flaw: Booksmart about pirates / naïve about life, love, and the reality of pirates
Will Turner

Why Will might be hard to identify with: He’s pretty lovable, but again, we’re not sure if we should identify with him because we’re not sure who the hero is.

  • He speaks the jargon of his craft: “Perfectly balanced. The tang is nearly the full width of the blade.”
  • As he waits in Elizabeth’s house, he admires a light fixture on the wall, but breaks off a piece of it when he touches it. He hastily hides the broken piece when they’re approaching.
  • He has to hear his boss get credit for his work. When the Governor tells him to pass on his compliments about the bland, Will can only say “A craftsman is always pleased to hear his work is appreciated.”
  • He has unrequited love. He can see, though Elizabeth can’t, that they’re not equals. “Will, how many times must I ask you to call me Elizabeth?” “At least once more, Miss Swann. As always.” The governor says, “See? At least the boy has a sense of propriety.”
  • He’s a master swordmaker:
  • He does well in a sword fight.
  • He has secret honor: Makes the swords and let’s someone else take the credit.
Strength Flaw: Honorable and hard-working / Hesitant to go after what he wants.
Jack Sparrow

Why Jack might be hard to identify with: He’s almost too bizarre to be believable, and we’re not sure who the hero is.

  • A wonderfully unique look, including odd stuff in his beard.
  • Physical mark: He has a P brand, burned there by the East India Company to show he’s a pirate.
  • He has an odd object: A compass that doesn’t point north.
  • He has a fantasy that’s brought down to reality: We meet him standing atop a crows nest like a majestic pirate, then realize he’s on a tiny ship that’s sinking.
  • Worry: He sees bodies hung with “Pirates ye be warned” sign.
  • He’s ironically arrested. He never would have been caught if he hadn’t stopped stealing the ship to save the governor’s daughter’s life, and this is his reward.
  • He has confidence: He walks off the crow’s nest of his sinking ship onto the dock. “Hold up there,
  • It’s a shilling to tie up your boat at the dock. And I shall need to know your name.” “What do you say to three shillings, and we forget the name?” “Welcome to Port Royal, Mr. Smith” Then he steals the man’s changepurse to get his money back.
  • Again again with the men guarding another dock: “This dock is off limits to civilians.” “I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t know. If I see one, I shall inform you immediately.” He then gets them distracted and goes onto one of the boats:
    • “Hey! You! Get away from there! You don’t have permission to be about there, mate”
    • “I’m sorry, it’s just, it’s such a pretty boat.”
    • “What’s your name?”
    • “Smith. Or Smithie, if you like”
    • “What’s your purpose in Port Royal, Mr. Smith?”
    • “Yeah, and no lies.”
    • “All right then, I confess. It is my intention to commandeer one of these ships, pick up a crew in Tortuga, raid, pillage, plunder and otherwise pilfer my weasely black guts out.”
    • “I said no lies.”
    • “I think he’s telling the truth.”
    • “If he was telling the truth, he wouldn’t have told us.”
    • “Unless of course, he knew you wouldn’t believe the truth, even if he told it to you.”
  • He saves Elizabeth’s life even though it puts him in grave danger.
  • He has a reputation: Commodore says to him: “You are without a doubt the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of.” “But you have heard of me!”
  • And then shortly: “You will always remember this as the day you almost caught Captain Jack Sparrow
  • He does well in a sword fight.
Strength Flaw: Confidant / Scoundrel

Friday, February 19, 2021

Examples Needed: Have them be witty

Okay guys, this may be the last one.

I realize that yesterday it was fairly ridiculous that I couldn’t come up with any good examples of heroes being confident. Thank you so much for your excellent suggestions in the comments. Well, today, it’s even more ridiculous: I can’t think of any good examples of any hero being witty in the beginning of a story! This is insane. My brain has melted.

The two examples I have aren’t very good: After seducing the reporter that was trying to write a damning profile of him, Tony in Iron Man explains to Rhodey why he was late: “I was doing a piece for Vanity Fair”. That’s funny, but it’s also cruder than I’d prefer.

In the “Cheers” pilot. Sam has to endure Diane quoting a long poetry verse. She then smiles and says, “That’s Donne.” He smiles back and says, “I certainly hope so.” The problem with this is that I’m not sure whether Sam is making a joke or not. Does he know that Donne is the name of a poet, or does he actually think she’s just said “That’s done”? I don’t know! So that’s not a good example either.

Obviously there are thousands of examples of a witty line I can quote from when we first meet a character, but my brain is fried! Can you help me out?

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Seeking Examples: Have them show confidence

Alright, guys, thanks so much for your suggestions so far! Here’s one where there are hundreds of examples but I can’t think of good ones. This is actually a follow-up to one we’ve already looked, but I’m sick of talking about American Hustle. Can you guys help me with examples where heroes flex their confidence like it’s a super-power?

Give them confidence

In the Believe section, we saw how Irving’s elaborate combover ritual in American Hustle made him believable. In the Care section, we saw how his FBI handler then know that he can mess up Irving’s hair and hurt his hero in a way that would only hurt this hero. You would think, then that this guy is the opposite of bad-ass.

But, ironically, something that would seem to be proof of his insecurity winds up proving the opposite. A very attractive woman says of him in a voiceover: “He wasn’t necessarily in good shape and he had this combover that was rather …elaborate, but he had this air about him, and he had this confidence that drew me to him. He was who he was. He didn’t care.”

Cocky confidence is a superpower that can turn any liability into an asset.

More examples??

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Seeking Examples: Give them rituals

Okay guys, thank you so much for your suggestions yesterday! I think I’ve come up with a good one for that one, but feel free to offer more if they come to you.  In the meantime, here’s another:

Give them rituals

As we live our lives, we accumulate daily rituals, as surely as ships gather barnacles. We use them to soothe ourselves. Without realizing it, they come to define us.

American Hustle begins with the elaborate ritual by while Irving installs his toupee every morning. We linger on it for a full three minutes of screentime. The character thinks this hides his shameful secret from the world, but it actually defines him in the eyes of others, as we’ll see in the Care and Invest sections.

Young George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life has an odd little ritual: Every time he enters the drug store where he works, he stops off at the counter to use some sort of bizarre cigarette lighter contraption, which presumably fails a lot, so he says “I wish I had a million dollars”, and tries to light it. When it lights, he says: “Hot dog!” As you can tell from my confused explanation, the whole thing is unexplained and delightfully odd. It’s so clearly from real life.

Can you guys help me come up with at least one more example?

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Seeking Examples: Have them use language we only know from real life

Okay, guys, that was a lot of BCI, wasn’t it? So the book is due in 12 days, which is punishingly soon. The good news for you guys is that this book will be mostly new to you, as I’ve mostly had to write it from scratch. Most of the book will be in the form of pieces of advice that I’ve hinted at on the blog but never given their own blog post, followed by examples drawn from some BCI’s you’ve seen and some you haven’t.

But I’ve got eight or so that I like, but only have one or two examples for, so I figured I would spend the next several days asking you guys for more examples of each. I crowdsourced more examples for my last book, and you guys were a great, help, so I figured I would tap into that again, if I could.  Thanks!

Let’s start with one from the Believe section: Have them use language we only know from real life

Dramatic writers can’t easily describe tastes or smells that the audience hasn’t experienced since childhood, the way prose writers can, but we can easily use language we haven’t heard in a million years, which will instantly make this feel like real life and not a made-up story.

In the first scene of the pilot of “Community”, the dean loses one of the cards he’s reading from, accidentally turning his rah-rah speech into a harsh put-down. When he realizes this, he gets embarrassed and asks everyone to help him look for the missing card, saying, “Can we all look around our immediate areas?” As surely as if I’d eaten Proust’s madeleine, I flashed back to hearing this phrase many times as a child, but I hadn’t heard it since.

Here’s where I’d put in more examples!

Whenever you hear or recall a phrase from your youth that hasn’t been heard in a million stories, jot it down and cherish it. Look for ways to re-open doors in your reader’s mind.

Can you guys help me??  I know this happens in other places, and I’d like to include.  Worse comes to worst, I’ll just cut it, but I'd love to find some more examples. 

Thanks so much!